Monday, August 21, 2017

Mt. Sembrano and Manggahan Falls (Rizal, 745+ MASL)

At the start of the grassland trail of Mt. Sembrano, Mt. Tagapo in Talim Island in the background

The highest point of the Jala-jala peninsula jutting out of the waters of Laguna de Bay is Mt. Sembrano. Rising tall and proud at a height of 745+ MASL, the peaks of Mt. Sembrano offer stunning views of the plains and mountains of Southern Tagalog on clear days, from the nearby Mt. Tagapo in Talim Island, to as far south as the Banahaw Volcano Complex, and all the peaks and valleys in between. Easily accessible from Manila via buses, vans and jeep that ply the route to Tanay, Rizal, Mt. Sembrano offers a quick and refreshing break from the daily city life grind.

Pinoy Mountaineer lists the following specs for Mt. Sembrano: Minor climb, Difficulty 3/9, Trail class 1-3; Major jump-off: Brgy. Hall of Malaya, Pililla; Days required / Hours to summit: 1 day / 3-4 hours; Features: Views of Laguna Lake and Southern Tagalog mountains; LLA: 14°23’10″N; 121°21’57” E; 745 MASL

Mt. Sembrano in Jala-jala Peninsula across the lake, viewed from the summit of Mt. Tagapo

Arriving at around 6:30 AM, I registered at the barangay hall of Brgy. Malaya, just along the National Road. After a few minutes of preparation, together with my guide, we started the trek at about 6:45 AM. The actual trailhead is located a few meters away, right at the very end of Belleza Road. Along the road, one can already see the peaks of Mt. Sembrano. Since it was drizzling that morning, the peaks of Mt. Sembrano were covered in swaths of clouds, foretelling what I would find as I reach the summit.

Brgy. Hall registration site

Along Belleza Road towards the trailhead. Note the cloud-covered peaks of Mt. Sembrano (summit not visible)

Less than an hour after starting the hike, we reached Manggahan campsite. Here is where most campers pitch their tents to spend the night before assaulting the summit. The trail towards the Manggahan campsite is quite easy and straightforward. The slopes are mild and there are several flat grounds along the way. The whole trail towards the campsite is nicely covered with mostly second-growth forest. The paths are full of large chunks of rocks (which actually runs almost through the entire forest trail). Fresh buko juice and cool drinks are sold at Manggahan campsite, with several benches for resting and flat grounds for pitching tents.

Second-growth forest trail towards Manggahan campsite

Resting at Manggahan campsite

After around 15 minutes of stopover at the campsite, we resumed the hike at around 7:45 AM. After the Manggahan campsite, expect the trail to be constantly ascending, with very few flat grounds in between. The forested part of this trail is still characterized by large chunks of rocks embedded in the ground. Certain portions of the trail may require a bit of scrambling. After about 30 minutes of trek through the forest, the trail opens into a wide grassland with great views of the Laguna Lake and the surrounding areas. This marks the start of the grassland trail.

Rocky trail on a moderately steep slope. Most of the forest trail looks like this.

At the start of the grassland trail

Assault towards the North Peak

The North Peak is about 10-15 more minutes away from the start of the grassland trail. Here is another flat ground with enough space to accommodate several tents. As expected, the peak is covered in a swath of fog covering the view. The air is also quite chilly and wet. A few minutes of rest and we pushed on to the South Peak which is the actual summit. Along the way, the wet soil of the narrow trail can be slippery, and the tall cogon grass can be taller than a person, obstructing the view. The wind can also be strong in this part of the trail, and together with the wet fog, makes the temperature drop.

At the North Peak. The thick fog covers the view

After waiting for a few minutes, still no clearing

About 10 minutes away from the North Peak is another flat space with enough room for several tents. This area like most of the trail in this part, are covered in long and tall grass. I got a glimpse of a bit of a clearing at this point when the wind blew the fog cover away and revealed the lake shore and Talim Island for a brief moment. Pushing on, we reach the summit at the South Peak at exactly 9:04 AM, about an hour and 20 minutes after we left Manggahan campsite. There we waited hoping for the fog to clear, but alas! No luck! After around half an hour we decided to start the descent.

Wind-swept, fog-covered summit

Waiting for a clearing. No luck!

On the descent. Trail is obscured by fog

Back trailing to the grassland and forest trails, we reached Manggahan campsite at around 10:20 AM. I rested and ate my lunch while my guide went to join his friends at the hut of the campsite caretaker. After resting, I decided to go to the falls. It was just a few short minutes away from the campsite. With the rest of the hikers still on the mountain, I had an exclusive time at the falls. Manggahan Falls is just small but it is a welcome respite for my tired legs. The water was invigorating and refreshingly cool. The forested surroundings and the sounds of insects, rustling leaves, and falling water create an exquisite atmosphere of peace and serenity.

At the Manggahan Falls

Relaxing dip in the water

Enjoying the shallow catch basin

After enjoying the falls and relaxing a bit at the campsite, I decided to head back to the registration. At exactly 11:40 AM, we started the descent, backtrailing to the barangay. We reached the barangay hall at exactly 12:13 PM and logged out, completing the dayhike.

View at the grassland trail, Mt. Tagapo and Laguna de Bay in the background

Mt. Sembrano is known for its challenging rocky ascending trails, stunning views and exposed trails. Hiking on hot, clear days rewards hikers of the views but puts extra strain on them with the extreme heat. Hiking on cool and rainy days negates this challenge but compromises the views. Which would you prefer?

Useful Information:

Trail Map: (For illustrative purposes only; may not correspond to actual coordinates)

Trail map to the campsite and the peaks of Mt. Sembrano

Actual Itinerary:
4:45 AM - Departure from EDSA Shaw to Tanay Market
5:40 AM - Arrival at Tanay Market, jeep ride to Brgy. Malaya (wait for jeep to load passengers)
6:30 AM - Arrival at Brgy. Malaya, register, secure guide, prepare
6:45 AM - Start trek
7:30 AM - Arrival at Manggahan campsite, rest
7:45 AM - Resume trek to Summit
8:17 AM - Grassland trail
8:28 AM - North Peak
9:04 AM - Summit
9:30 AM - Start descent
10: 20 AM - Back at Manggahan, lunch rest
10:45 AM - Explore Manggahan Falls
11:30 AM - Back at Manggahan campsite, prepare for descent
11:40 AM - Start descent to Brgy. Hall
12:15 PM - Back at Barangay Hall, log out, wash and tidy up
12: 45 PM - Jeep ride back to Tanay Market
1:15 PM - UV Express ride back to ESDA Shaw
3:00 PM - Back at EDSA Shaw

Mandatory Fees: (as of August 2017, subject to change without notice)
Registration Fee at Brgy. Hall - Php. 20.00
Entrance Fee at Manggahan campsite - Php. 10.00
Guides are not mandatory. Guide fee is at Php. 500 per 5 persons

How to get there: (fares as of August 2017, subject to change without notice)
From EDSA Shaw Blvd., ride a UV Express van at Starmall bound to Tanay Market (Php. 70.00). get off at Tanay Market and ride a jeep bound to Brgy. Malaya and ask the driver to drop you off at the Brgy. Hall (Php. 22.00). Registration is at the Brgy. Hall.

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